As some already know, in May 2013 [AD_admin], [Matthias], [Nadia], [Noemi] and I formally founded a UK company called Edgeryders LBG. The stated aim of the company is to provide the scaffolding for the Edgeryders community to continue to exist and thrive. We care about this because we have witnessed many very valuable collaborations emerging from the community, and we believe many more are coming.
At a minimum, “providing scaffolding for the community” means hosting, maintaining and further developing this website, every edgeryder’s home on the web, and organizing one Living On The Edge real-life event a year. These things cost time and money; the community can and probably will provide some (time more than money), but even in the best case scenario Edgeryders LBG will be called upon to provide resources. So, here’s the question: how do we generate them? In other terms: what is our business model?
We all agree on the following:
- Although it is clear that Edgeryders is acting as a sort of incubator – fostering new projects and even hosting them in its corporate shell – we are not going to try and monetize this. We believe this service to be the most important Edgeryders has to offer, but we are still going to give it away for free. We badly want those collaborations to happen, and most of them are too fragile to demand cash of. If we were to do so, they would simply move away, or not happen at all.
- Instead, we are going to sell expert advice (we call it“open consultancy” to decision makers in the public and private sectors.
- We are going to generate this expert advice by mobilizing the community, just like we did before with the original Edgeryders exercise in 2012 and Mission: Baltic in 2013. Individual members of the community will be involved with different roles on different projects, according to skill and inclination; some of these roles will be paid, others will be voluntary, some will be full time, others part time.
- We are going to encourage community members use Edgeryders LBG as a corporate vehicle for their projects, provided that they are coherent with our values. Both the unMonastery and Economy App are initially framed within the Edgeryders corporate shell. As they grow, these projects will probably want to spawn their own corporate entities, but starting within Edgeryders relieves them of some administrative complexity early in the game, when the people leading them need to focus getting the projects off the ground. If you have a project you want to do as Edgeryders and can get the resources to get it off the ground, we’ll hire you as a project manager, give you an email address and a deck of business cards, and help you as best we can (more on this).
How exactly to do that? We prefer to spend our time trying things out rather than making slides for a business plan – we got our first client before even becoming incorporated, and are currently engaged in pitching both Edgeryders to possible clients in three continents. And yet, the discussion on business models is relevant and interesting, and it has started. So far, we have identified three entities that feel somewhat similar to Edgeryders, and from which we might learn.
- Primary Insight is a consultancy company that delivers investment advice. Its benchmark competitor is Gartner. Instead of trying to hire the best analysts, PI deploys ad-hoc networks of people who are not professional consultants, but rather people who work in the relevant industries and contribute to PI on the side. For example, is a client is thinking about buying machine tools companies in China, PI builds a team consisting of people who work in the machine tools industry, have a deep knowledge of the Chinese manufacturing space, or both. PI insists that, by being embedded in the industries clients need to know about their consultants, their consultants can deliver much better intelligence than any external (and generalist) analyst. PI is “like Edgeryders” because it is connected to people on the ground, whatever the ground, and can mobilize these people to deliver expert advice. Such advice takes the form of projects like Mission: Baltic or the Edgeryders Guide to the Future: a fairly large-scale coordinated effort around a goal agreed with an individual client.
- Expert Labs is presented (by David Weinberger, in a recent book) as a public sector equivalent to Primary Insight. Its initiator is a friend, and a person I look up to: Beth Noveck, onetime director of the White House’s open government initiative. Apparently, the initial idea was to redeploy the vast expertise contained in an existing organization called the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At the time of writing, Expert Labs seems to have folded, after focusing much of its efforts on building an ICT tool, called ThinkUp, for government agencies to continuously engage citizens on social media to tap into their collective intelligence.
- Redmonk does not do “client work” other than one-on-one consultant’s billable hour. So, no projects like Mission:Baltic happen as a result of client asking for them. Rather, Redmonk does research as it sees fit, and then publishes its results. Its revenue comes from a subscription model – not unlike a magazine. Like a magazine, it has a lot of freedom. Expert advice takes the form of projects like in the Primary Insight example, except that their goal is determined only by Redmonk, and consumed by all of its clients/subcribers. Redmonk is “like Edgeryders” because they claim to be able to act as go-between clients and a particular category of people: for them it is developers (“they are our people”, as their corporate website puts it). What would be the equivalent of Redmonk’s developers for Edgeryders? Young people? Radicals? Social innovators?
Do you like any of these models? Do you think they would work for Edgeryders? Do you have any other ideas?